Volunteers who turned out Saturday for a community build of a park in northwest Tyler moved mulch, mixed bags of concrete and assembled swings, slides, a rock wall, stationary cycles, an idea garden, shade structures and other components of the new park.

Approximately 100 to 200 volunteers divided into nine teams with various names, such as Smiley-Face, Orange and Alien, to work on different jobs they were assigned to help put together the new Gassaway Park on Charlotte Drive.

They transformed an empty area that had been known for illicit activity into a revitalized modern playground. Some came individually but others represented entities in the community.

Waiting for an assignment, Brooks Melton, who was on hand with the Tyler Junior College student senate, said, “I believe that it’s important for us to make an impact not only on our school, but our community, so we decided to come out here and help give people of North Tyler a park for this community. We are willing to do whatever we are told to do.”

Deonna Wright, a Tyler ISD early college high school student, wanted to be able to put community service hours on her transcript when she goes off to college. She said, “I love helping the community. I like to give back. I like to see kids smile and I love parks and I love helping the community and helping build a park where kids can play for free. That’s a good thing.”

Completion of the park was sped up about two years ahead of schedule when the city received an $80,000 grant through Blue Cross Blue Shield and KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit that specializes in providing youngsters, especially low-income kids, a safe place to play.

After meeting with the community about a year ago, city officials had already invested about $170,000 to get done the base of the park involving drainage, a half-court basketball court, improving the parking area and lighting. They had advised neighborhood residents there would be little playground equipment in the first phase, according to Russ Jackson, director of parks for the city of Tyler.

However, the KaBOOM! grant meant that the community build could be held Saturday with volunteers to assemble playground structures and different features of the park, Jackson said.

He added, “I’ve never done one of these (a community build) before. We were excited we could get it here in Tyler. This is the community coming in to help. We have (city) workers here too, but the community is coming in to do their part. That’s what makes it exciting.”

William G. Bennett III, representing Blue Cross Blue Shield, said Gassaway Park in Tyler is the 40th playground building that the firm and KaBOOM! have sponsored across Texas. He said, “We believe it’s very important for children to have an ability to play and to maintain their physical ability. It helps improve both their health and health of their family.”

City Council member Shirley McKellar thanked, on behalf of the mayor and city council, the volunteers who came to help put together the playground equipment and everyone who gave money to the project.

McKellar said, “We have to make certain that all children are safe and that children on this side of the city do not have to cross Gentry Parkway in order to get to a playground.”

The city also received a $20,000 grant for the park last year from Keep America Beautiful and Lowe’s.

Hunter Stevens, project manager for KaBOOM!, recalled that the nonprofit had asked children from the community to design their dream playground at the Glass Recreation Center and those were taken into account.

What the crowd saw Saturday, he said, was the result of eight weeks of hard work by KaBOOM!, the city parks and recreation department and funding from Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Ricky Zhu came to the community build with the chemistry club at the University of Texas at Tyler, saying the club members thought it was a nice opportunity to help out.

Bill Dipprey, representing Tyler Lions Club, said, “Our motto is that we serve and we’re here to help them build a playground for the city of Tyler. What we are trying to do is serve the community. Most of our emphasis is on children’s vision, but we do other stuff to maintain visibility in the community. We’re here to do what we are told to do.”

Cody Wingfield, who is new to Tyler after serving in the military and is in his first semester at UT Tyler, said he was looking to see what Tyler has to offer when he heard about the community build. He said, “It’s something to do on a Saturday. I’m getting out meeting people and not sitting at home. It makes me feel better. And I’m trying to get a volunteer ribbon.”

Twitter: @Tylerpaper

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